Not the Da Vinci Code tour: part 2

Posted by jerry on June 30th, 2006 — Posted in History, Journal, Travel

The first rule of jet-lag – and how to overcome it is to drink water and get plenty of exercise and stay awake for the first day until well after dark. Okay, so that was three rules. Anyhow, after a delayed flight (are there flights not delayed out of European mainland?) I hit London walking.

Straight down the Strand – one of my favourite streets. Every time I go down the Strand I discover something new – or in this case very old. It was a chance glance down a laneway by Fleet Street that brought me to a church with a Wren-like steeple. I hadn’t previously encountered St Bride’s Church, and the name was intriguiing – especially it’s nickname: The Printer’s Cathedral. Okay, I was on Fleet Street – home to all those newspaper publishers – but I was surprised to find that the first moveable type printing press was brought here in 1500AD.

St Bride's Church

There is quite a history on this site. This is the eighth church built on this site, and it has been a Christian place of worship for 1500 years. The present church was the venue for the marriage of the parents of Virginia Dare (thanks for the comment) – the first European child born in Colonial America in 1587. The spire (above) is the tallest that Wren ever built and was the inspiration for the tiered wedding cake. This was also the church in which Samuel Pepys was baptized.

In 1940 a bomb revealed a crypt in which you can now see the pavement on which Romans walked in AD180 – and it is open to the public.

St Brides' Crypt

A bit further down is St Paul’s Cathedral, and one of my favourite things to do to stave off jet-lag is to climb the 530 stairs to the lantern on the dome where you get a superb view of London – and a good sense of the underlying landscape.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

And inside the dome the magnificent paintings visible from the Whispering Gallery

inside St Paul's dome

Walking back along the Strand you can sense the history – as well as take some minor detours down some delightful laneways. Take this one, for instance, which would be entirely hidden were it not for a suitable tourist sign on the Strand, which points towards Temple church – reputedly built by the Knights Templar, but ceded to the Hospitallers. The church has gained some recent attention, having been featured in a movie about another semiotician, who uncovers a mystery. And yes, every Tuesday and Thursday at 2.30pm you can take the tour which explains the reality behind the myth underlying this church’s role in the Da Vinci Code. It is London’s only remaining Romanesque building – modelled after the the domed Church of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Temple Church, London

The stained glass windows are breathtaking, but turning towards the rear of the church, you can see several life-sized effigies laid out on the floor. Many are named, and some are in interesting cross-legged positions.

Temple Church effigies

The effigies are of Templar knights from the 13 Century – this one is of Gilbert Marshall, fourth Earl of Pembroke and Templar knight who died in 1241. And don’t forget to look up at the walls – the row of grotesques is fascinating.
And, in case you were in any doubt about the Templar association, you need look no further than the pedestal outside the entrance.

Templar sign

But if you really want to avoid the Da Vinci Code tourists, it is only a short sprint up the Strand to Somerset House, home of the Courtauld Institute of Art gallery and the Hermitage Rooms. This gallery is one of London’s gems, housing world famous old masters, impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.

Somerset House, London

Among the exhibitions I went to were The Road to Byzantium – a collection of luxury domestic goods from the St Petersberg Hermitage Museum, at the Hermitage Rooms. The exhibition runs from 30 March to 3 September 2006 – and is well worth a visit. Among the fascinating items are some Byzantine coptic textiles from Egypt in the 4th century AD.

The Coptic craftsmen had a vast number of images on which to draw for inspiration, many of which circulated in the form of patterns, a few of which have survived on papyri. They used pictorial motifs from the Greco-Roman tradition, including pastoral scenes related to the Nile River and mythological characters such as dancers who evoke Dionysian celebrations.
byzantine textile

This textile is a fragment of a tunic with scenes from Euripides’ play Hippolytos, and is part of a group of textiles with representations of heroes from Greek tragedies. It is made from linen with wool weaving.

byzantine textile 5-6 century AD
This textile depicts Dionysos’ chariot and the twelve labours of Hercules from 5th Century AD Egypt. It is made from linen with wool weaving.

A contemporary quote (4-5th century AD) from Asterius, Bishop of Amaseia of Syria condemned the growing fashion for clothing woven with images: “They have invented some kind of vain and curious warp and ‘broidery which, by means of the interweaving of warp and weft, imitates the quality of painting and represents upon garments the forms of all kinds of living beings, and so they devise for themselves, their wives and children gay-colored dresses decorated with thousands of figures.” (quote from Indiana University Art Museum website)
So it’s easy to avoid the Da Vinci Code tourists and find fascinating sites that remain undiscovered by so many – they don’t know what they’re missing!


1 Comment

Comment by Sally in US

The first child born of British parents in the US was Virginia Dare (not Drew).
I only know this from hearing my grandmother (long deceased) talk about this on a number of occasions! She was a student of early US settlement history.

Posted on July 2, 2006 at 10:15 pm

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